KABUL – Ever since the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) allowed commercial airlines to fly over Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, few carriers are choosing to do so. According to reports, the aviation industry is treading cautiously due to a litany of critical concerns including presence of anti-aircraft weaponry, absence of air traffic control mechanisms and repression of women’s rights in Afghanistan.
One prominent voice of caution comes from the OPSGroup, an organization representing the aviation sector, which has expressed strong reservations about the safety and viability of such flights. The lack of air traffic control coverage across Afghanistan, coupled with the presence of surface-to-air weaponry, raises valid concerns about the safety of flights traversing the region, despite reduced travel time and fuel consumption for East-West flights.
Since the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul in 2021, aviation in the broader region came to a standstill, forcing flights to detour around Afghan borders. These diversions not only prolong flight times but also result in increased jet fuel consumption, a major operational expense for airlines. Afghanistan’s strategic geographic location, situated on direct routes between India, Europe, and America, provides commercial airlines with more direct and time-efficient paths.
The FAA’s recent announcement, permitting potential resumption of flights above 32,000 feet, is expected to impact carriers positively, potentially offering more streamlined routes. United Airlines, for example, currently operates flights over a limited portion of Afghan airspace but has indicated no plans for immediate expansion. Similarly, Virgin Atlantic continues to monitor the situation dynamically as it operates flights over the region.
While airlines like American Airlines and Air India have historically used the Afghan airspace route, they remain hesitant. Past contributions of substantial overflight fees to Afghanistan’s revenue are overshadowed by concerns about international sanctions imposed on the Taliban, raising questions about the feasibility of collecting and holding such fees.
The new FAA rules signal a possibility for flights over Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, holding the promise of efficiency gains for airlines. However, intricate challenges related to safety, air traffic control limitations, and geopolitical considerations have led most carriers to adopt a cautious approach in exploiting these potential routes. The aviation industry watches closely as discussions on overflights continue to unfold in this evolving landscape.